The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.

Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò Machiavelli
On Lying in Politics
This conference aims to explore an array of historical and philosophical issues associated with the phenomenon of lying in politics. In recent years, it has become a familiar lament that lying has become endemic to contemporary politics and politicians the inventors and manipulators of new forms of deceit. Politics, we seem to assume, should be a realm in which truth-telling is automatically the highest good. Yet a brief glance at the history of political theory gives us reason to be wary of this contemporary shibboleth. Ever since Plato’s assault on Odyssean cunning and Sophistic rhetoric, counterposed to his defense of “noble lies” by a political elite, the legitimacy of persuasion, hypocrisy, secrecy and lies has been a hotly contested theoretical and practical issue. As Hannah Arendt reminds us, truthfulness has rarely counted among the political virtues, and lies have regularly been regarded as justifiable tools in political dealings. In his current research, Martin Jay explores the fate of truth-telling and lying in the history of political theory. Drawing on Arendt, Lefort, Rancière, Derrida and other contemporary theorists, he challenges the complacent assumption that lying, secrecy, or hypocrisy are anathema to an open, pluralistic democratic polity. Jay entertains the controversial idea that while the search for perfect truth and transparency may be politically damaging, duplicity, at least in some of its guises and genres, is a uniquely democratic political virtue. “Democratic fabulation” as he puts it “must allow a thousand mendacious flowers to bloom”. This recovery of the virtue of mendacity, he claims, is one of the final chapters in the modern desacralisation of politics.
This conference will address the issue of lying in politics through a range of philosophical, ethical & historical questions:
  • Is lying a creative, generative political act, and if so does this apply to specific kinds of duplicity? How is lying related to the imagination? Does the prevalence of lying in politics suggest an affinity between politics & aesthetics? Are there different genres or arts of lying?  
  • Should States & their agents be held to the same normative standards as private individuals? Are there specific international & domestic political contexts or conditions that warrant States excepting themselves from the moral principle of truth-telling? Is lying a sign of individual political agency or civic freedom? What are the limits on mendacity in the political realm? Does it matter to whom the lie is told and for what purpose (is telling lies to power more justified than the powerful telling lies)?  
  • How have different traditions of political theory understood & evaluated mendacity? How do the various concepts of ‘the political’ shape our judgement of lying in politics? Is the prohibition on lying an incursion of sacred imperatives into the realm of politics or is it intrinsic to some political orders?  
  • How ought veridically oriented institutions & discourses intersect with the political realm & its pervasive mendacity?  
  • What is the relation between lying (where someone states as true what they know to be false) and delusion (where someone states something as true without knowing that it is actually false)?

 On Lying in Politics - (A joint CHED - POLSIS event)

A Conference around the work of Professor Martin Jay:
Keynote Speaker:  Professor Martin Jay, University of California, Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor, History.
Speakers:  Kim Huynh (ANU), Fiona Jenkins (ANU), Marguerite La Caze (UQ), Justine McGill (USYD), Martin Weber (UQ)
Conference Venue:   St. Leo's College
The Leonian Room
University of Queensland Campus
College Road
St. Lucia  Q 4072
Conference Date:
Friday  26 February 2010.
9am to 5pm
Conference Registration Details:
$80.00 full fee paying
$40.00 for postgraduates
Please register on-line here
Martin Jay - Public Lecture - The Virtues of Mendacity: On Lying in Politics - Wed Feb 24 - 4-6pm - Rm 213,(bldg 5) - Richards Building
Martin Jay - Postgraduate Master Class - Thurs Feb 25 - 2-4pm rm 537 (bldg 39a)  Politics Seminar Room.
Numbers are limited for the Master Class - Postgraduates MUST register their interest with Dr. Michael Ure.

For further information on the Conference and the Master Class, please contact:

Dr. Michael Ure
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Centre for the History of European Discourses
University of Queensland
QLD 4072 Australia

For further information on the Public Lecture please contact:

Dr. Richard Devetak
School of Political Science and International Studies
University of Queensland
QLD 4072 Australia
Accommodation is available at:
The Medina Executive Brisbane
Rooms from $150 pr night to $180 pr night - Full buffet breakfast $18.00 pp per day.
To book or make enquiries please contact Emma White, Reservations Manager on
To take a look at the Medina please go to the following website
St. Lucia Gardens
Prices are $105 for single, and $110 for double
Contact Bob Phillips
Manager.St Lucia Gardens Apartments
2 Gailey Rd
St Lucia,4067
5am to 6.30pm Weekdays
6am to 6pm Weekends/Holidays
Phone: 07 3870764407
Fax: 07 38708332
On Lying in Politics section


  On Lying in Politics University of Queensland 2010  

Titles, Abstracts and Papers

Title: ‘Speak the Truth’ Damian Cox, University of Queensland and Michael Levine, University of Western Australi...

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